Derbyshire – and the Peak District, which spills over into the neighbouring counties of Cheshire, Staffordshire, Greater Manchester and South and West Yorkshire – has one of the highest concentrations of calendar customs in the UK. These encompass everything from rituals of very ancient (possibly Pagan) origin like the well dressings and the Castleton Garland Ceremony; to more modern alternative annual sporting contests dreamed up over a pint or three down the local pub. Examples of the latter include Bonsall Hen Racing, the Mappleton Bridge Jump, the Great Kinder Beer Barrel Challenge and the World Championship Toe Wrestling Championships.
The area is peppered with ancient stone circles such as Arbor Low and the Nine Ladies, which provide a strong ritual focus into the 21st Century, drawing visitors from around the world seeking answers to their own individual questions. In addition, a number of unusual old carvings (some surprisingly explicit) can be found lurking in dark corners of the region’s churches.
Since 2015, Richard Bradley has been travelling the area documenting these strange rituals. His local history books Secret Chesterfield and Secret Matlock and Matlock Bath both feature chapters on local customs and folklore. Weird Derbyshire and Peakland includes objects from Buxton Museum’s collection relating to local folklore and customs not normally on display. You can see the exhibition, admission free, until Saturday 9 November 2019. Plan your visit here.